Santa Clara County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to spend $23.2 million to buy a Mountain View hotel and convert it into housing for people who are homeless, despite a late surge of vocal opposition to the project by nearby residents.
The vote at the Nov. 2 meeting sets in motion plans to transform the 66-room hotel into permanent supportive housing, creating apartments mostly earmarked for unhoused county residents. The county is seeking to offset the costs by applying for $16.2 million in state funding, and will be getting financial help from the city of Mountain View to renovate the hotel rooms.
While the project won plenty of early support from the Mountain View City Council, the leadup to the county's key vote Tuesday was marked with intense opposition from hundreds of nearby residents. During the hourslong public hearing, residents -- most of whom live in Sunnyvale near Crestview -- blasted the county for not listening to their concerns over public safety and the possibility of dangerous tenants living in the future apartment complex.
A flyer passed around prior to the meeting describes how Crestview is too close to high-density residential housing, schools, parks and children's playgrounds, mapping out local public and private schools in the area around the hotel -- including Amy Imai Elementary school in Mountain View, which is on the other side of Highway 85. Opponents to the project said they had collected upwards of 1,000 signatures from residents against the project in under a week.
Speakers repeatedly pressed supervisors to delay the vote or drop the acquisition plans entirely, and raised concerns that the project will be used to house a high number of people with mental health and drug addiction problems.
In a letter, resident John Chou told county supervisors that homeless housing should be placed in a "less populous" area, and that he doesn't understand why the county is seeking to spend so much public taxpayer money to create a facility that puts nearby children in danger.
"It’s very hard and may take a long period of time to build a good neighborhood but it’s so easy to destroy a good one just by a single project like this one," Chou said.
Many residents pushed back, and made a strong case for what they described as much-needed housing to stabilize the lives of people who have fallen on hard times. Sunnyvale resident Richard Mehlinger, a member of Livable Sunnyvale, said there is a great deal of misinformation circulating about Crestview, and that future tenants will go through the same background checks as any other housing development. Resident Scott Haiden said people are spreading fear about people who are struggling with substance abuse issues.
"If we're serious about helping them, we would give them supportive housing to work on any problems they have," Haiden said.
Resident Mark Farley, who supported the hotel conversion, said the groundswell of opposition doesn't seem to understand that permanent supportive housing takes homeless people off the streets, rather than drawing them to the neighborhood.
"People think we're going to be transporting homeless people from the Tenderloin into the South Bay," he said. "That's not the case. These are people who have had medical emergencies, have lost one or two jobs, the house that they're renting got sold underneath them -- these are hardworking people with kids."
If built, Crestview would be the latest in a regionwide effort to convert hotels and motels, many of them aging or dilapidated, into homeless housing. These conversion projects are largely funded through California's Homekey program, which encourages these developments as a relatively cheap and quick way to reduce the state's growing homelessness problem.
This would be the second Homekey project in Mountain View. Earlier this year, the city and the nonprofit LiveMoves received $12.4 million to build 100 modular housing units of interim homeless housing, which today is nearly full and mostly serves people who were homeless within the city of Mountain View.
Though Mountain View is taking a more limited role in the Crestview Hotel conversion, the city is still pitching in $3.7 million to rehabilitate the property once it's been purchased.
One consistent complaint at the meeting was that the county lacked transparency and failed to properly notify and inform the community about the upcoming hotel purchase. The intent to convert the property was first publicly aired in January, and since then the county has held community outreach meetings in March, August and October of this year. Close to 300 people participated in the last of those meetings.
County Supervisor Joe Simitian said there have been three Board of Supervisors meetings on the topic, along with eight news articles, a county press release and postcards sent to everyone within 1,000 feet of the Crestview Hotel.
"I think at this point we have to agree that the project has been well and widely noticed," Simitian said.
Simitian voted in favor of the project, but on the condition that the county be transparent in how the project will affect the surrounding community, including a "community impact report" within the first 18 months of operation to track any problems. He also called for annual meetings to let residents raise any concerns they have about the project.
Simitian added that he was concerned about the level of polarization that the proposed hotel conversion has caused, and said that it's something the county will have to work through in order to ensure the project is the best it can be.
Supervisor Otto Lee also called for residents, opposed or not, to stay engaged and ensure that the project doesn't cause any sort of increase in trash or criminal activity. He reiterated that future tenants will go through a screening process, and won't have any added propensity to cause problems.
"The future residents will not be the so-called transient homeless or drug dealers or criminals, as stated in these flyers we've been seeing on social media, because folks like that will not pass the background check," Lee said.